On our way back from an epic three-day visit to the Saloum delta at Palmarin, we managed to squeeze in an afternoon visit to the Popenguine nature reserve. Away from the Mamelles and Cap Manuel areas of Dakar, Popenguine is the only area on the Senegalese coast that has decent cliffs, and as such harbours a range of “cliff specials”
One of these is Gosling’s Bunting, a classic here and usually easy to find as several pairs are present in the cliffs, both in the boulders at the base and towards the top. On this particular visit we only saw one as we lacked time to cover the full length of the cliffs, plus activity was reduced because we were there on a hot, windy afternoon – less than ideal conditions of course to find passerines (or many other birds for that matter). This male was singing in a spot sheltered from the wind and allowed for prolonged close-up views, much to the delight of all seven of us.
Another local specialty is Blue Rock Thrush, of which we saw one female type, as always very inconspicuous and hard to find. The few wintering birds here are thought to be present from mid-October into February or March (for a bit more info, see this and this post on our blog).
No sign of any Crag Martins which are probably brief but regular winter visitors, though the site is – just like most birding hotspots in Senegal – greatly underwatched so its phenology is not known, neither is it clear whether it visits Popenguine every year.
Mottled Spinetail on the contrary was conspicuous, with about a dozen birds flying around, often passing low. Not easy to photograph, but Alain managed to get a good shot, on which one can even see the peculiar “spines” on the tail (click/tap image to enlarge).
Besides the buntings, my Swiss companions were particularly keen on seeing Helmeted Guineafowl, which I know to be present in the area though I hadn’t seen them in the reserve itself yet. It seems that at least in western Senegal the distribution of this species is rather patchy, with the Petite Côte between Somone and Toubab Dialaw being the most reliable (at least based on my limited experience – I’ve only ever seen them around here). As such, my hopes for finding some were not very high, but once again on this tour the group was extremely lucky when a passer-by flushed six of these impressive birds, just enough to allow everyone to see them. The guineafowl turned out to be the final species to be added to the trip list, which closed at an impressive 321 species seen during the two-week trip.
Also present were Grey-headed Kingfisher, Mosque and Red-chested Swallows, African Thrush, Common Redstart, Common Whitethroat, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Cut-throat. Yet another Barbary Falcon was seen hunting along the escarpment behind the cliffs, while several Ospreys were either sitting on some of the scattered baobabs or flying around, often carrying their prey.
Both Black-billed Wood Dove and Namaqua Dove were present in good numbers, including at least one delicately patterned juvenile of the latter.
The small lake near the reserve entrance was rather quiet, with just a handful of herons and egrets, at least two Little Grebes, a Common Sandpiper, two Senegal Thick-knees, and Malachite and Pied Kingfishers. Good to see though that there’s still plenty of water here, unlike many other pools and wetlands in the region. Could be interesting in spring for migrant waders (this is the site where Senegal’s third Pectoral Sandpiper was found in March 2013 by Simon).
All in all, this last leg of the trip proved to be worthwhile once again, mission accomplished! The final ornithological note of the trip was that of a male Sahel Paradise-Whydah flying over the road while driving back to Sindia; a bit further, along the shiny new highway, an African Wolf crossed the road – luckily not busy at all – near Kirene.
Un grand merci à Alain et Cédric pour les photos – et à toute la clique du GOBG pour la bonne compagnie!!